When the police and paramedics opened the door, they pushed through the lounger, the kitchen and coffee tables, and found my body there, in the hotel room. I was lying on my back, covered in vomit. There was vomit on the bed, on the floor, and it had projected up the wall behind me and covered a massive picture that hung behind the bed. Those who found me thought it was a murder scene. Apparently the pink Benadryl pills, along with the tens of thousands of other milligrams of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications I took, made it look like blood. They thought I was dead and I should have been. I wanted to be. I had been unconscious nearly twelve hours.
The one flash I have of coming to was being transferred by the medical personnel from the gurney to the hospital bed. Everything was colored white except the navy of the nurses scrubs. I’m assuming it was in the ER.
I remember them cutting my clothes off and it was all like a nightmare. I couldn’t respond but I remember them counting “1…2…3…” before lifting me up and over. And what emotion do I remember from that? Shame. Ashamed of being naked. I had never been more vulnerable.
I couldn’t process all of this in that brief moment, but here I was, a failed minister, an embarrassment to anyone who ever cared about me, and I couldn’t even get a suicide right. The same thing happened when the male nurse came in the next day and I woke up in one of those momentary fogs. I wasn’t worried about the pain of him ripping out the catheter. I had experienced far greater pain. It was the shame attached to being naked and having my penis touched by another man. A stranger.
After three days in ICU, the doctors decided my liver wasn’t going to fail, and I had regained feeling in my legs. I was released from ICU and immediately transferred to the psych ward. The psych ward. Me. The former worship leader. The youth pastor. The Christian radio host. The blogger. The ministry school graduate. The father. The husband. The outgoing one. The friendly one. The upbeat one. Me. I was sitting in a wheelchair, headed to the psych ward. And I stayed there for several days.
Since those darkest days, I’ve fought really hard to recover and learn to practice self-care daily. Here’s 5 self-care tips during recovery from a suicide attempt:
- Focus only on things that make you better. As a person with mental illness, there is so much I can’t control, like a panic attack in the middle of the work day, or waking up to the fog of depression on a beautiful summer Saturday morning. But I can always control how I take care of myself. I can respect my limits, fight distraction, and focus on recovery.
- Remember, you are more than just a diagnosis. Labels are important, especially from a medical standpoint. They give us a plan of action. They show us a lot about our limits. They teach us which medications may help and what substances or situations to stay away from. But when we focus more on the label than the person behind it, a human being in need of love and belonging, we miss the point. And we miss an opportunity to live a full and meaningful life.
- Don’t forget: hard days don’t last forever. Sometimes hard days mean I take an extra five minutes on a lunch break to hide in the server room at work and take a few deep breaths. If necessary, I am also not afraid to take medicine my doctor has prescribed specifically for those moments, or even take a “mental health day.” I’m not an advocate of hiding under the covers, but I also believe in knowing yourself well enough to acknowledge your limits. If the day is bad enough and you don’t put your job in jeopardy, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
- You don’t owe anyone an apology for your story. When others don’t understand mental illness, they can make comments that seem to have a hidden meaning. Sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it’s just plain ignorance. Either way, those jabs bring on shame. If I feel like someone thinks I should have my life more together than I actually do, I feel a need to say I’m sorry. But I don’t owe anyone an apology for my recovery. I don’t have to feel bad for having a hard day. And I definitely don’t need to say ask forgiveness for having a panic attack.
- Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. What do you do with the people in your life you can’t easily push away? Those who are permanent fixtures, those whom have both hurt you and been hurt by you? Maybe it’s parents or old friends. In my life, the answer to that question looks like checking in with them on my terms. I set the pace of our relationship now.